The location: Newport Pier Plaza.

Q. What is it supposed to be on the show?

    A. In the broadest sense, a street leading to the Pier which has been blocked off to traffic and made into a beachside pedestrian promenade, lined with shops and palm trees.

    But most often, they focused on a single location on that promenade: a small, red-tile-roofed, two-story mall) which was built around an open-air patio/courtyard area and featured a restaurant and bar (complete with palm frond patio tables) and a number of different shops.

Q. Where is it supposed to be on the show?

    A. Just off Balboa Blvd., next to either the Balboa Pier or the Newport Pier, in Newport Beach.

Q. When did we see it on the show?

    A. Although the Plaza was never mentioned in the first three seasons of The OC, it became a major location in the final (4th) season, appearing in virtually every episode (until most of it was destroyed in an earthquake).

    For the producers, the plaza/mall/promenade basically served as a convenient way to combine several different key sets, and provided an easy way to bring the main characters together on a regular basis.

    Not only did Seth and Ryan both work there, but since it was a shopping/dining area, it offered a reasonable excuse for other characters to drop casually by for chats, or to linger just outside, on the Promenade, for needed scenes.

    It contained, among other shops:

    • El Pavo Guapo, the Mexican restaurant & bar where Ryan worked (and where Taylor had her surprise birthday party).

    • The Centurion comic book shop. It was was owned by Seth, (and it was where Ryan and Taylor had their first date).

    • The book store ("Pages") where Taylor's French ex, Henri-Michel, held an autograph session at the book store and recited love poetry (prompting Ryan to try his own hand at verse).

    • An ice cream shop, "The Sugar Shop", where Julie and Kaitlin were stranded after the big earthquake.

    • The "Balboa Bay" day spa, where Julie went for a massage.

    • The "Elena Berry" boutique where Julie & Kirsten window shopped.

    • A music/record store ("Newport Vinyl") is seen often in the background, sporting posters of bands like Tally Hall.

    • Plus the palm-lined promenade outside the mall (where Kaitlin and Luke's brothers spied on Dr. Roberts).

    • And a number of other small shops, with signs reading "Yacht Brokers, "Skate & Surf", "Sherman Sports", etc.

Q. What is it actually in real life?

    A. Alas, this is one of the more disappointing locations on The OC. It is merely an elaborate studio set, loosely inspired by a real pierside promenade and its small courtyard.

Q. Where can I find it in real life?

    A. You can't.

    At first glance, it would seem as if the Plaza was a real place. Before showing a scene set at the Plaza, they almost always showed an establishing shot of the very real Hermosa Pier Plaza promenade in Hermosa Beach, CA.

    That real promenade is located at the west end of Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach, at the foot of the Hermosa Beach Pier. (Hermosa Beach itself is located north of Redondo Beach and south of Manhattan Beach.)

    In those establishing shots, they put up a fake "Balboa Blvd" sign to cover up the real name of the cross street (Hermosa Avenue), but there's no doubt that the camera is looking west down Pier Avenue towards the Hermosa Beach Pier.

    And if you then look at actual aerial photos of the real Pier Avenue, you'll spot a red-tile-roofed building, an open two-story quad (joined by pedestrian bridges) which would certainly seem (at first glance) to be the actual filming location.

    But it's not.

    That red-tile roofed quad is known, in real life, as "Loreto Plaza", a small shopping center which is located at 49 to 53 Pier Avenue, in Hermosa Beach. Loreto Plaza contains, among other businesses, "Fat Face Fenner's Fishack" (a restaurant & bar that is popular with Red Sox fans), Paradise Sushi, High Five Boutique, Skin Savvy and Emily’s Piano Studio. So it is possible to have a meal or drink there (but I don't know about shrimp tacos...)

    Loreto Plaza is even located right next door to the clothing store where they filmed the scene in which Ryan's brother, Trey, almost got into a fight with the store manager (in "The Brothers Grim"). Hermosa Beach even refers to this part of Pier Avenue as "Pier Plaza". So it would seem to be the Plaza filming location, right? Wrong.

    I've visited Loreto Plaza in person more than once, and despite the many similarities with the fictional Newport Pier Plaza, it's definitely not the same place. The first obvious difference one sees is the pale wood stairway banisters, which are completely different from the dark wood, flat-topped banisters of The OC's Pier Plaza set.

    But there are many other obvious differences as well. For instance, the two pedestrian bridges spanning the courtyard are, in real-life Hermosa, occupied by the "Fat Face Fenner's" restaurant and are used for dining. (In fact, it's hard to even go upstairs at Loreto Plaza without going through the restaurant, since the western staircase is off limits to the public.) But on the show, both the bridges and the stairways are open walking space.

    And the mall area on the show is considerably larger than the actual Loreto Plaza, which is a pretty small place in real life - which is probably why they chose not to film there.

    In the past, with key locations, the producers have shot the first few episodes actually on-location at a real place (such as the Cohen house in Malibu or the Pier Diner in Redondo) and then they later built an exact replica of that real place inside the studio (so they didn't have to leave the studio all the time to shoot there).

    But the clear differences between what we always saw on the show and what you see at the real Loreto Plaza makes it clear those scenes (of Seth's comic book store and Ryan's Mexican restaurant) were obviously not really shot in Loreto Plaza. They never really filmed there.

    (For reference, the top photo on this page and the fifth photo down are shots of the real Hermosa Pier Plaza. The three photos in between are from scenes filmed on the set.)

    Take a look at the four photos of Loreto Plaza below and you'll immediately see both the similarities and the major differences between this real Loreto Plaza and the fictional Pier Plaza on The O.C.

    [ I shot the four photos below in 2007. I apologize for the poor quality of the photos, but it is very shadowy inside
    the quad, and very bright sunshine outside on the Promenade; the resulting contrast made it necessary to
    correct the photos in PhotoShop to bring out the shadow details, which produced a washed-out result.



    So if the Pier Plaza scenes weren't shot there, where were they shot? And why does it resemble the real Plaza?

    While checking details of the Plaza on the show, I noticed that every single business sign in these Plaza scenes were for fictional businesses which don't exist in real life, from the Yacht Brokers next to the comic book store to the Newport Vinyl record store - it was all fake. At first, I thought this was just the usual clever OC set decoration, but then I noticed that even in the distant background, "across the street", where I would normally expect to see real businesses (and get some clues of where they really were), even there the business names were fake: places such as the Balboa Brewery and the Roadhouse Cafe. Those places were nowhere to be found in the Yellow Pages - they simply didn't exist.

    It was then that I began to suspect that perhaps everything we saw on the show of "Pier Plaza" was just part of an elaborate, original studio set. And, it turns out, I was right.

    Only the establishing shot of Hermosa's Pier Avenue is real. Everything inside the familiar quad (such as the comic book store and the cantina), and the quad itself, was simply invented at the studio.

    There's little doubt that the fictional Newport Pier Plaza set was loosely inspired by the real Loreto Plaza in Hermosa Beach (and the larger Hermosa Pier Plaza promenade & pier just outside). They copied the benches on Pier Avenue, the square bases of the trees, the decorative stone cubes on Pier Avenue, the shape of the patio courtyard and how it opens out onto Pier Avenue in front... they even recreated the rows of giant palm trees that line Hermosa's real Pier Plaza. They even borrowed its name.

    They clearly liked the idea of filming on busy Pier Avenue, but they also obviously wanted a bigger work space.

    So it appears that their solution was to just create their own elaborate "mall set" in the studio, starting out with the basic idea of Loreto Plaza and Pier Avenue's promenade, but then making up a lot as they went along. So what you end up with is something of a hybrid between the Hermosa Beach's Pier Avenue, the Loreto Plaza center on that Avenue, the distant Redondo Beach Pier, and even bits of the Redondo marina, all meshed together to create the fictional Pier Plaza set.

    The "Newport Pier Plaza" we see on the show is actually nothing more than a large set inside a sound stage at Manhattan Beach Studios. Unlike the accurate replica sets of the Cohen house, the infinity pool, the Yacht Club and the Pier Diner, the Pier Plaza studio set isn't a copy of any real place - it's just loosely inspired by the layout of Pier Avenue.

    One major liberty they took with the set is that they show the masts of boats (as well as a "Drive-It" boat rental sign) just outside the mall (see the photo to the right), implying that a small boat marina exists at the end of Pier Avenue (and just outside of Loreto Plaza). There is no marina in Hermosa Beach at all, just the pier; and the boat marinas at both Redondo Beach and the real Balboa are located quite a distance from those towns' respective piers.

    In a scene in Episode 1 of Season 4 ("The Avengers"), Kaitlin even looks up (from a bench on Pier Plaza) and sees her Dr. Roberts on the beach, as if the sand were only a few feet away... Clearly, the OC center is supposed to be much closer to the water than the actual Loreto Plaza.

    At one point, they even mixed together elements of the Redondo Pier and the Plaza. In "The Night Moves", Julie and Kaitlin get trapped in an ice cream store at the Plaza that ends up as an "island" when part of the pier is washed away (or so they are told). For that scene, they copied the very recognizable wooden posts & lamps from the Redondo Pier, and mixed them with a studio storefront that doesn't really exist on the pier.

    [ Below is a photo of the (fake) Pier Plaza set at Manhattan Beach Studio, courtesy of ahnnie05 on ]

    So, in real life, now that the sets are gone, the closest you can get to visiting the filming location is to stroll to Pier Avenue (and Loreto Plaza) in Hermosa Beach. But if you go there, don't expect to find the identical mall you see on the show, because it doesn't really exist. All you'll find in Hermosa is the palm tree-lined promenade, and a similar-looking courtyard that may give you an odd sense of déjà vu.

    And speaking of déjà vu... If you get a craving for fish tacos, you'll find that the colorful interior of the "Cantina Real" Mexican cafe (at 19 Pier Avenue) looks suspiciously like Ryan's El Pavo Guapo. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was also an inspiration to the set directors...

    If you get the chance, do enjoy a trip to Hermosa Beach, especially in the summer, when the real Pier Plaza is a crowded, bustling place that typifies Southern California's "fun in the sun" culture. And you're sure to recognize some of the other places within walking distance that were used as OC locations, whether it's Trey's store, the Hermosa Pier, the Strand walkway, the Sea Sprite Motel, or the sandy beach itself. Plus, it's only a short drive from the Redondo Beach Pier and marina, where they filmed so much of the show.

    ( Hermosa Beach was the site of another of The OC's few infamous fakes, and ironically, it was yet another restaurant where Ryan worked: the Crab Shack, which never really existed outside of a park on the Strand and a studio set. )

    Here is a Bird's Eye view aerial photo of Loreto Plaza on the Hermosa Beach Pier Plaza.

    And here is a map link.

Q. How the heck did you figure out where it was?

    A. I immediately recognized the establishing shot of Hermosa Beach's Pier Plaza. And looking at aerial photos, I was at first convinced that Loreto Plaza was the actual filming location.  However, when I went there in person, it became clear that it wasn't the right place. Almost, but not quite. I walked all over Pier Avenue that day, looking for the correct location, but it was nowhere to be found. Every clue on the show pointed to Loreto Plaza. The producers had even placed a fake "Skate & Surf" sign out on the sidewalk right in front of Loreto Plaza when they shot that familiar establishing shot, and then included the same sign on the studio set. It was so close that it almost unnerving, but I had to admit that it was not quite the same place.

    For a while, I shifted my search to other areas: Fisherman's Village in Marina Del Rey, the Redondo Beach Pier, Ports O'Call Village, even Long Beach's Belmont Shore area. But none of them matched.

    I began to suspect that a real place didn't exist at all, that it was just a studio set loosely based on Hermosa's real Pier Plaza and the Plaza Loreto courtyard. Those suspicions were confirmed when Steve Covington sent me a link to this detailed photo of the actual Pier Plaza set. It's clear that the studio set is much too large and too different to have ever been a loyal recreation of the Hermosa locale. Thanks, Steve!

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